Skip to main content

Get Out of Gaol Free


Acts 16:16-34 


When Paul is telling us about the dangers he faced he’s often quite understated and matter of fact. It’s interesting, therefore, to hear Luke’s first-hand account of one of those experiences in this passage from the lectionary readings for May. Here Luke spares us no details and spells out the drama of the situation in the most lurid terms.

Notice the arresting way in which the slave girl describes these early Christians. They are not servants of God, with rights and privileges. They are not entitled to be protected from danger. Instead, they are ‘slaves’. Slaves have to do unquestioningly whatever their owner tells them. This includes putting themselves in harm’s way and doing dangerous things.When Paul responds by healing the girl, her divinations about him and Silas are proved true. Luke, of course, escapes, no doubt grateful to be push aside as they are dragged before the magistrates, attacked by the mob and then beaten with rods, the traditional Roman punishment for disturbing the peace.Not content with giving them a severe flogging the magistrates also throw Paul and Silas into prison, perhaps for their own protection. 

And there further dangers await when an earthquake strikes which is so severe that it shakes the prison to its foundations. Whether it’s actually the earthquake which rattles open the doors and frees the prisoners from their chains, or whether the prison guards release them out of compassion, we’re not told. Either way, the earthquake would have been taken by many prisoners as the perfect opportunity to make good their escape. 

Not so, Paul, of course. If this is God’s idea of a ‘get out of gaol free’ card he refuses to take it, and perhaps it’s his earlier steadfast witness in prayer and praise to the other prisoners which persuades them to stay put too. Christianity isn’t a passport out of danger, it’s a ticket into danger and difficulty for Jesus’ sake. If Paul and Silas had not resisted the temptation to escape they would have missed the opportunity to convert the gaoler and his family to the new faith.Are we ready to face challenge and danger too, in order to grasp the opportunities which it might bring in our own lives and in the life of the Church?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I don't believe in an interventionist God

Matthew 28.1-10, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 I like Nick Cave’s song because of its audacious first line: ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God’. What an unlikely way to begin a love song! He once explained that he wrote the song while sitting at the back of an Anglican church where he had gone with his wife Susie, who presumably does believe in an interventionist God - at least that’s what the song says. Actually Cave has always been very interested in religion. Sometimes he calls himself a Christian, sometimes he doesn’t, depending on how the mood takes him. He once said, ‘I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it.’ But his lyrics often include religious themes and he has also said that any true love song is a song for God. So maybe it’s no coincidence that he began this song in such an unlikely way, although he says the inspiration came to him during the sermon. The vicar was droning on about something when the first line of the song just popped into his head. I suspect …

True Love

Mark 12:28-34 In 1981 Prince Charles was put on the spot during a television interview with Lady Diana Spencer, his new fiancee. The interviewer asked them if they were in love. Lady Diana’s instant response was , ‘Of course!,’ but Prince Charles replied, ‘Whatever “in love” means.’ Now in case you think Prince Charles is just a bit of a cold fish, on National Poetry Day 2015 he read a poem on Radio 4, ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ by Robbie Burns. I thought, ‘This is going to be a bit wooden,’ but I was wrong. He read the poem so movingly that Clarence House has made it available on YouTube and Twitter. Listening to him it was impossible to escape the conclusion that he now knows what being “in love” means. O my Love is like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June: O my Love is like the melody, That's sweetly played in tune. As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, So deep in love am I; And I will love thee still, my dear, Till a' the seas gang dry. But what does being “in …

Why are good people tempted to do wrong?

Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Psalm 119.1-8, 1 Corinthians 3.1-4, Matthew 5.21-37 Why are good people tempted to do wrong? Sometimes we just fall from the straight and narrow and do mean, selfish or spiteful things. But sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re still good people even though we’re doing something wrong. We tell ourselves that there are some people whose motives are totally wicked or self-regarding: criminals, liars, cheats, two-timers, fraudsters, and so on, but we are not that kind of person. We’re basically good people who just indulge in an occasional misdemeanour. So, for example, there’s Noble Cause Corruption, a phrase first coined apparently in 1992 to explain why police officers, judges, politicians, managers, teachers, social workers and so on sometimes get sucked into justifying actions which are really totally wrong, but on the grounds that they are doing them for a very good reason. A famous instance of noble cause corruption is the statement, by the late Lord Denni…